(Billings, MT – Yellowstone Public Radio) – ExxonMobil officials say its Billings, Montana-based refinery is operating at a reduced capacity following its pipeline break earlier this month. But officials say no employees will be laid off.
The company’s Silvertip Pipeline broke July 1, 2011 and spilled an estimated 1,000 barrels of crude oil into the wild and scenic Yellowstone River.
Exxon Mobil spokeswoman Karen Matusic of Dallas says that pipeline is the Billings refinery main supplier of US and Canadian crude.
“What we’re doing right now is we’re continuing to work very diligently to identify all available crude supply to allow us to continue operating the refinery,” she says. “What we’re doing now is we’re getting alternative supplies from another pipeline, from truck, and we’re also considering rail deliveries into the refinery.”
Matusic says if any units are idled because of reduced supply, those employees will instead work on maintenance, repair and clean-up.
“Fortunately, we’re able to keep everybody at work,” she says.
US Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) says anytime there is an environmental disaster, like a pipeline bursting, “we always think about the environmental impacts. When in fact there are other impacts too. And we felt that the jobs side of this was very important too. These are good jobs and it’s important that we keep those folks working.”
Tester received a letter from ExxonMobil President Sherman Glass, Jr. assuring that there are no plans to layoff any workers at the Billings refinery in the foreseeable future.
The farmer from Big Sandy, MT, says another concern from the oil pipeline break or reduced operations at the Billings refinery is any potential impact on gasoline prices.
“I had the question whether it will drive gas prices up,” Tester says. “I don’t believe it should. I hope it does not.”
Matusic says while she can’t directly comment on gasoline prices, “the good thing is we expect to meet all of our gasoline contract commitments for the foreseeable future despite the impacts to the refinery operations as a result of the pipeline breach.”
She says the company will also be getting gasoline supplies from other areas.
“We’re doing all we can to mitigate the impact on the local consumers, on the local economy, and the local workforce,” Matusic says. “Which is why this pipeline (Silvertip) is so critical to ensuring crude supply to our refinery. So expediting the restoration and restart of this pipeline is a key solution for the longer term.”
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in the US Department of Transportation is the regulatory agency that oversees pipelines, like Silvertip.
Teams continue work to assess and clean-up damage from the pipeline break earlier this month near Laurel, MT. Over the weekend, state and federal officials oversaw ExxonMobil Pipeline Company’s removal of all of the residual oil and oily water mixture from the two segments of broken pipe on either side of the break location from the Yellowstone River. Officials say that eliminated the threat of secondary releases of crude from the ruptured pipeline.
With dropping river levels, teams have been able to launch boat. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has reported 19 animals have been seen, but not yet been captured. This includes a bald eagle. Karen Nelson of the USFWS says officials are working to capture the eagle so oil can be removed. She says they believe it will not survive the winter unless that oil is washed off.
The Senate Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure has scheduled a hearing on the Yellowstone River oil spill. Montana Senator Max Baucus chairs that committee.